Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Some important anniversaries

Beijing: the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games was deliberately timed by the Chinese organising committee to begin at exactly 8 seconds after 8 minutes past 8 o’clock on the 8th day of the 8th month in the year two thousand and 8.

By jings, the Chinese must have a thing about that number 8!

And so, too, should we of the Catholic Church here in Scotland. For, was it not in the year 1878 that on the morning of Monday, March 4, as the very first official act of his pontificate, on the day following his papal coronation, His Holiness Pope Leo XIII restored the Scottish Episcopal Hierarchy? In the Apostolic Constitution Ex supremo Apostolatus apice Leo wrote: “What, therefore, our predecessor (Pope Pius IX, Pio Nono) was hindered by death from bringing to a conclusion, God, who is plentiful in mercy and glorious in all his works has granted us to effect, so that we might, as it were, inaugurate with a happy omen our Pontificate, which in these calamitous times we have received with trembling.”

Thirty years later, in 1908, the 19th International Eucharistic Congress was held in September, in London. Not only was this the first time that the Congress was held in an English-speaking country, it was also, and perhaps even more importantly, the first time since the Protestant Reformation that a Papal Cardinal Legate was welcomed on British soil.

It is also to this 1908 Eucharistic Congress that we in Scotland can trace the practice of frequent reception of Holy Communion. One of the greatest advocates of this was the founder of Carfin Grotto, Canon Taylor; and, it was he who organised the presentation of a paper on frequent reception of Holy Communion at the Congress.

But the Eucharistic Congress is not the only important event the centenary of which falls this year. 1908 was also the year in which the Catholic Churches of Scotland and of England and Wales were removed from the supervision of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide. We were no longer regarded by Rome as mission territory (sic transit Gloria mundi).

And on the debit side, this 1908 Eucharistic Congress was also the occasion of His Majesty’s Government offering the grossest insult to the 12,000,000 plus Catholic citizens of Great Britain and Ireland – not North or South, for in those days there were no parts of Ireland – and the then British Empire since the one delivered from the throne in the House of Lords following the death of Queen Victoria.

The 20th Century was barely three weeks old when Victoria died on Tuesday, January 22, 1901. When another three weeks had passed, Hansard recorded one of the details of the succession on Thursday, 14 February 1901. It reads:

The King’s Speech
The King being seated on the Throne, and the Commons being at the Bar with their Speaker, His Majesty made and subscribed the Declaration against Transubstantiation pursuant to the Bill of Rights and afterwards made a Most Gracious Speech.

The speech may indeed have been gracious, but the Accession Oath most definitely was not. King Edward VII swore:

“I, Edward, do solemnly and sincerely, in the presence of God, profess, testify, and declare, that I do believe that in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper there is not any Transubstantiation of the Elements of Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, at, or after, the Consecration thereof by any person whatsoever; and that the Invocation or Adoration of the Virgin Mary, or any other Saint, and the Sacrifice of the Mass, as they are now used in the Church of Rome, are Superstitious and Idolatrous.”

William Redmond would later say of this that the Catholic grievance in relation to it “never merely was that the language employed against ourselves and our religion was violent, abusive, and vulgar. Our great grievance was that our religion, and our religion alone of all the various beliefs in the world, was singled out by the King at the most solemn moment of his life for vehement and violent repudiation.”

The notable and noble Catholic, Lord Herries − who died in 1908 − later publicly stated that he had been present in the House of Lords that day seated close to the King when he made the Declaration. It is to Edward’s great credit that Lord Herries was able to assert that he had never seen anyone “so embarrassed and so confused” as the King had been that day. He had “run over the language of the declaration as if it hurt not only his own feelings, but the feelings of everyone around him.”

Difficult as it may seem, Henry Herbert Asquith, the Prime Minister in 1908, even managed to exceed this for grossness.

The detailed planning and organising of the Eucharistic Congress had taken eight months. The senior prelates from around the world who came to London were led by the papal legate, His Eminence Vincenzo Cardinal Vanutelli, Bishop of Palestrina. Other members of the Sacred College of Cardinals present were their Eminences: Michael Logue, Archbishop of Armagh; James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore (who famously replied when asked what he thought of papal infallibility: “All I know is that every time I have met the Pope he called me Jibbons!); Cyriaco Maria Sancha y Hervas, Archbishop of Toledo and Patriarch of the W. Indies; Andrea Ferrari, Archbishop of Milan; Desire Mercier, Archbishop of Mechlen, Belgium; and, Francois Mathieu, the former Archbishop of Toulouse, but then of the Roman Curia. Sadly, Cardinal Mathieu took ill while in England and died in hospital in London shortly after the Congress ended.

With the eyes of the Catholic World on London, and the Eucharistic Congress already underway, HH Asquith banned the closing Eucharistic Procession!

Astonishingly, he did so citing the Roman Catholic Relief Act (10 George IV, c. 7 {13 April 1829}). Fifteen years earlier, in 1893, when it was proposed to hold a Eucharistic procession in Chorlton, the Protestant Alliance raised objections and tried to have it banned citing this very same Act. This was regarded as so serious by some that it was referred to in a question tabled in Parliament for answer by the then Home Secretary. Having, in the quaint expression of the day, “scouted” the matter, the Home Secretary announced that Her Majesty’s Government “did not intend to take any action.”

That then Home Secretary was as the Eucharistic Congress opened, the Prime Minister, HH Asquith. Since the closing Eucharistic procession was early agreed to between all concerned − the Eucharistic Congress organising committee, the Westminster City Council and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner – no one who mattered expected Asquith’s administration not to adhere to his earlier principles which were predicated on the belief that the penalties envisioned in the 1829 Catholic Emancipation Act were a dead letter.

But obviously fifteen years was a very long time in politics. And so, too, was less than a week; because at the start of the week Asquith was evidently, if not in favour, then, at least, not opposed to the procession. By the Thursday, he was. But, of course, he tried to get Archbishop Francis Alphonsus, later Cardinal, Bourne to say it was all his idea.
A decade later, and 1918 is not only remembered for an end being brought to the First World War, there was also the no small matter of the Education (Scotland) Act.

I could go on, but of all the 8th years going back over all the decades of the 130 years history of the Catholic Church in Scotland in the modern world, perhaps the most important, and not just for us but also for the Universal Church, was 1958.

Fifty years ago, in October 1958, His Eminence Angelo Cardinal Roncalli, Patriarch of Venice, noted in his diary: “Sister death came quickly and swiftly fulfilled her office. Three days were enough. On Thursday, October 9, at 3.52 am Pius XII was in Paradise.”

On Monday, September 29, at the papal summer residence, Castelgandolfo, His Holiness Pope Pius XII suffered a recurrence of a problem which had afflicted him in the past, hiccoughs. The following day found him so unwell that he was unable to speak to the pilgrims he received in audience. On the Thursday he seemed better and was able both to receive and address a large group of pilgrims. He gave special audiences to the Oratorian Fathers in Rome for their congress and to a party of railway-bookstall proprietors and newsvendors. This latter group he cautioned to be ever “vigilant about the quality of the publications” they put on display.

On Friday, October 3, Cardinal Spellman led 700 American pilgrims to Castelgandolfo. They had come from Lourdes. The Holy Father spoke to them about the Feast of the Guardian Angels which had been celebrated on the day before (Thursday, October 2). Of the month of October, Pius said to them that it “checks the vision for a moment, reminding one’s inner spirit that there is another world, a world invisible yet as real as the one you see, and quite as close to you.”

Perhaps he sensed that the hand of God already lay unkindly upon his shoulder.

Saturday brought the participants of an international congress of plastic surgeons. Whenever the Pope prepared a lengthy allocution for groups such as this, it was customary for it to be printed in advance and distributed among the group after the Holy Father had read out the concluding part. So nothing need have been read into Pius doing precisely this here. However, to their professional eyes it was evident that the Holy Father was unwell.

On that Saturday afternoon, Pius XII received a few notable lay pilgrims in special private audience. The last he greeted and spoke to was the actor (later Sir) Alex Guinness. On the Sunday an open air audience was held in gusty weather and in the afternoon the Pope walked in the gardens. In the evening he appeared at the window and blessed the pilgrims gathered in the courtyard below. However, at 3.30 on the Monday morning it became clear that His Holiness was very seriously ill.

Dr Riccardo Galeazzi-Lisi, the Medico di Sua Santità, was summoned from Rome, arriving within half an hour. The Pope’s sister, Elisabetta, and his nephews came soon after. In the morning those cardinals present in Rome began to arrive, as did also Msgr Domenico Tardini, effectively Pro-Secretary of State and who would soon become the real thing. Cardinal Tisserant, Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, was enjoying a brief holiday in his native Nancy, France, but immediately flew back to Rome on learning of the serious nature of the Pope’s condition and wasted no time in getting to Castelgandolfo.

On the Monday afternoon Pope Pius was given the Last Rites and received the viaticum. The Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Cardinal Mircara, called for prayers pro re gravi to be said in all the churches of Rome. A medical bulletin was issued saying in part: “the Pope was stricken with cerebral circulatory disturbances, the development of which is now under observation.”

The following afternoon saw the arrival of the Pope’s gerontologist, the Swiss Dr Paul Niehans, a medical charlatan of the highest order. Peter Hebblethwaite, biographer of John XXIII and Paul VI, wrote of him: “By 1958 Pius was clearly dying despite the best efforts of Dr Paul Niehans of Montreux, who believed he could rejuvenate the Pope by his controversial ‘living cell’ therapy – injections of finely ground tissue taken from freshly slaughtered lambs. The fact that Dr Niehans was a Protestant was sometimes taken to prove that Pius XII had ecumenical dispositions.” He adds that Pius’s recourse to such quack medicine (my description, not his) was “not the only example of Pius XII’s bizarre behaviour.”

At 6.30 on the Wednesday morning, the Pope, who had “spent a night without hiccoughs” was “stricken with a slight circulatory disturbance, similar to the one of last Monday.” That Wednesday was spent in a coma and according to The Tablet (which went to press that day) death was “delayed by an indomitable physical fortitude.”

Just before four o’clock on the Thursday morning, leaning over his seemingly lifeless body, three times Cardinal Tisserant called him by his given name, Eugenio. Three times Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli failed the call. Hopefully he was, indeed, as the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice was confident he was, in Paradise. At least his death could be formally notarised and his signet ring could be defaced, the papal apartments sealed, and the cardinal electors not present in Rome summoned.

So what manner of man presented himself before the recording angel at 3.52 that October Thursday morning fifty years ago?

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